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Nearly Two-Thirds of States Lack Rescue Drug and Good Samaritan Overdose Laws

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A recent analysis, released by Trust for America's Health (TFAH) in October, of state drug laws and policies found a majority of states do not have laws that can provide help to individuals during an overdose.


  • Good Samaritan Laws: Only 17 states and Washington, D.C. have laws in place to provide a degree of immunity from criminal charges or mitigation of sentencing for individuals seeking to help themselves or others experiencing an overdose.  The states include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington state.  According to experts, many overdose deaths can be prevented with quick and appropriate medical treatment, but fear of arrest and prosecution may prevent people who overdose, witness an overdose or are with someone who has overdosed from calling 911.  The level of immunity covered by the Good Samaritan laws vary from state to state.   
  • Rescue Drug Laws:  Only 17 states and Washington, D.C. have laws in place to expand access to, and use of naloxone – a prescription drug that can be effective in counteracting an overdose – by lay administrators.  The states include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 188 community-based overdose prevention programs now distribute naloxone, which has led to more than 10,000 overdose reversals.  Naloxone counteracts life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system, allowing an overdose victim to breathe normally and has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"Philip Seymour Hoffman's death is a tragic reminder of the drug problem in America.  There are too many sad stories of tragedies that could have been averted," said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of Trust for America's Health (TFAH).  "We need to start by getting past the outdated sense of stigma associated with addiction and focus our energies on effective prevention strategies and modernizing how we think about and deliver treatment." 

"In the past decade, we've witnessed more than a 100 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in the United States. We've seen an astronomical rise in sales and deaths from prescription painkillers – both have quadrupled – since 1991.  Many doctors and patients responsibly use these drugs to help people suffering from pain.  However, at the same time, there has been a striking increase in the misuse and abuse of these medications.  And, many in the public health field report that it is also serving as a gateway to a rise in heroin use – since heroin is often cheaper and easier to get," Levi continued.

Many public health officials have raised concerns that some prescription drug users are transitioning to heroin use. An analysis by the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality at the  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) pooled data from 2002 through 2011 from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and found that among 12- to 49-year-olds recent (within the last 12 months) heroin use was 19 times higher among those who had previously used nonmedical painkillers compared to those who had not.  Almost 80 percent of new heroin users had previously used prescription painkillers, while only 1 percent of new prescription painkiller users previously used heroin. 

Drug overdose deaths now exceed motor vehicle-related deaths in 29 states, according to an October 2013 report, Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic, released by TFAH.   Drug overdose deaths have doubled in 29 states since 1999.  The rates quadrupled in four of these states and tripled in 10 more of these states. 

The report also found that 28 states and Washington, D.C. scored six or less out of 10 possible indicators of promising strategies to help curb prescription drug abuse.  Two states, New Mexico and Vermont, got the highest score, receiving all 10 possible indicators, while South Dakota scored the lowest with two out of 10.

Some key recommendations from the report include:

  • Make rescue medications more widely available by increasing access for at-risk individuals to naloxone and provide immunity for individuals and others seeking help;
  • Expand access to and availability of effective treatment options as a key component of any strategy to combat prescription and non-prescription drug abuse;
  • Educate and work with the public and prescribers to avoid misuse and ensure responsible prescribing practices for opioids; and
  • Increase understanding about safe storage of medication and proper disposal of unused medications, such as through "take back" programs.


Note: Rates include total drug overdose mortality rates, the majority of which are from prescription drugs. 1 = Highest rate of drug overdose fatalities, 51 = lowest rate of drug overdose fatalities. Rankings are based on data from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, WONDER Online Database, 2010.   The numbers are based on the number of people per 100,000.

1. West Virginia**** (28.9); 2. New Mexico (23.8); 3. Kentucky**** (23.6); 4. Nevada (20.7); 5. Oklahoma*** (19.4); 6. Arizona (17.5); 7. Missouri*** (17); 8. (tie) Tennessee** and Utah (16.9); 10. Delaware** (16.6); 11. Florida** (16.4); 12. Ohio*** (16.1); 13. Rhode Island** (15.5); 14. Pennsylvania (15.3); 15. Wyoming*** (15); 16. South Carolina*** (14.6); 17. Indiana**** (14.4); 18. Michigan*** (13.9); 19. Louisiana*** (13.2); 20. Washington (13.1); 21. (tie) District of Columbia and Montana** and Oregon** (12.9); 24. Colorado (12.7); 25. Arkansas** (12.5); 26. (tie) Alabama*** and Idaho** and New Hampshire** (11.8); 29. Alaska (11.6); 30. (tie) Mississippi***and North Carolina** (11.4); 32. (tie) Maryland and Massachusetts (11); 34. (tie) Hawaii and Wisconsin** (10.9); 36. Georgia*** (10.7); 37. California (10.6); 38. Maine (10.4); 39. Connecticut (10.1); 40. Illinois (10); 41. New Jersey (9.8); 42. Vermont** (9.7); 43. (tie) Kansas** and Texas (9.6); 45. Iowa**** (8.6); 46. New York (7.8); 47. Minnesota** (7.3); 48. Virginia (6.8); 49. Nebraska** (6.7); 50. South Dakota (6.3); 51. North Dakota (3.4).

** Drug Overdose Mortality Rates doubled from 1999 to 2010

*** Drug Overdose Mortality Rates tripled from 1999 to 2010

**** Drug Overdose Mortality Rates quadrupled from 1999 to 2010

Trust for America's Health is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to saving lives by protecting the health of every community and working to make disease prevention a national priority. For more information, visit

SOURCE Trust for America's Health

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